Columbia U. opens 'Palestine' center
Columbia U. opens 'Palestine' centerfrom Columbia U. website: courtesy of the Pal

New York City’s Columbia University, which last year hosted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the name of its ”academic freedom,” now has decided that “Palestine” is a country and has opened the first U.S. Center for Palestine Studies.

Calling itself “one of the world's great educational institutions and a bastion of academic freedom,” the university dedicated the center to the late Edward Said, a “Palestinian” Arab who taught comparative literature at Columbia for 40 years.      

During the British Mandate, from 1917 until the re-establishment of the State of Israel n 1948, the term Palestine referred to all of what now is Israel, including Judea and Samaria, but was allocated for a Jewish homeland in the Balfour Declaration. The Palestinian Authority uses the British mandate term and teaches in textbooks and media that it should have sovereignty over all of the area, precluding the existence of Israel.

Organizers and participants in the new center implicitly admit that a “Palestinian people,” which former Prime Minister Golda Meir said in 1969 never existed, is not rooted in history.  

James Schamus, a Columbia School of the Arts professor who participated in the opening of the center, was quoted by the liberal Jewish Forward as saying, “Palestine seems to be a world of multiple myths, a world of lies. It’s not possible to move forward before we organize the past.… It’s about trying to legitimize a history that really doesn’t exist.”

Nevertheless, Amy Newhall, executive director of the Arizona-based Middle East Studies Association, said the new study center "is a guarantee that history is not lost, that identity is not lost.” 

And what is a Palestinian? The new center’s co-director Rashid Khalidi stated that Palestinians are defined as those who describe themselves as such.

Mitchell Bard, author of the “The Arab Lobby” is worried about Columbia’s new study center’s becoming another front for anti-Zionism. He told the Forward, “I wonder if this is going to become the center for anti-Israel studies,” adding that studying something that “doesn’t exist” demonstrates a problem of definition.

The Center for the study of Palestine joins other Columba university departments that have served as a forum for anti-Israeli lectures.  

Amanda Gutterman, a Columbia College sophomore, noted in a university forum, “The Columbia website includes a directory of its centers, which include the centers for Brazilian Studies, Iranian Studies, and French and Francophone Studies. These centers are all named with adjectives, not nouns. So why not “Palestinian”? The Center for Palestine Studies cannot possibly claim that it follows a normal model for the way centers are titled….

“It does little to assuage my concern that the word Israel’ does not appear once in the Center’s 500-word mission statement, while ‘Occupied Territories' appears several times."